[Aamir Ali Bhat]
Days after a pregnant woman and her unborn child was killed in “cross-firing” inside her courtyard in Pulwama, her utensils are still lying unwashed near the tap where a bullet hit her. Perhaps living adjacent to an army camp had its own lurking dangers for young Firdousa whose tragic passage has left behind another conflict-torn family in Kashmir.
On the evening of October 19, a six-month pregnant woman Firdousa Akhter, 28, had tea with her family in her single-storey house adjacent to the Indian army’s 44 Rastriya Rifles camp in Shadimarg village of Pulwama. After finishing tea, she went outside to wash utensils at a tap installed in the lawn, along with her 5-year-old daughter Aalima.
When Firdousa bent to open the tap, a bullet pierced the tin sheet and struck her throat. She fell on the ground.
Her daughter Aalima stumbled and received injury on her forehead. She stood up and ran indoors amid the ear-shattering gunshots.
Firdousa’s husband Khursheed Ahmad Sheikh, their two kids Aalima and Tawqeer and her sister-in-law Asmat Jan were peeking through the window. They thought Firdousa had stumbled too and fallen on the ground. They were hobbling frantically across the kitchen. The bullets were raining.
The spot were Firdousa was hit. (FPK Photo/Amir Ali Bhat)
“It was difficult to go outside. Around five minutes later, Khursheed Bhai took a risk, and he went outside. He tried to pick her up, but it was difficult,” says Asmat, grieving over the loss.
“Later, I too went outside, and we brought her to the corridor. The blood was gurgling out from the hole caused by the bullet. We screamed for help, but in the din of gunshots, no one could come to our rescue.”
Watching his wife dying in front of his eyes, Khursheed was wringing his hands in desperation while waiting for the firing to stop. He called his brothers and father who live two kilometres away in Qasbayar village and informed them about the incident. Alima and Tawqeer were looking towards their mother who was lying before them, taking her last breath.
“The firing didn’t stop for half an hour,” Asmat says, wearing benumbed eyes. “We were helpless. I gave her water. She was trying to say something and moving her eyes from Alima to Tawqeer to Khursheed.”
Tawqeer and Aalima, Firdousa’s kids. (FPK Photo/Amir Ali Bhat)
When the firing finally stopped, Firdousa was taken to Rajpora hospital, and from there she was rushed to Pulwama District Hospital where she took her last breath. Her death certificate mentions the cause of death as “firearm injury”.
Her body was taken to her in-laws, where they performed her last rites and buried her along with the unborn baby under the mounds of mud and stone.
Since then, Khursheed has been suffering from Bradycardia, a condition wherein an individual has a very slow heart rate. Unable to come to terms with his wife’s tragic death, he has locked his house, and is now living with his father. The unwashed utensils that Firdousa had taken out for cleaning on the fateful day are still lying near the tap.
“The militants fired a UBGL grenade at a camp of army’s 44 Rashtriya Rifles in Shadimarg village at around 7.10 pm, on Oct 19, and the blast was followed by intense firing,” police said in a statement. “The soldiers retaliated the fire, and one woman was killed in cross-firing.” That woman was Firdousa.
Firdousa’s death certificate. (FPK Photo/Amir Ali Bhat)
That day, Firdousa was happy as she had invited her brother’s family for lunch. She had called Asmat for help.
“She was in a very jovial mood that day,” says Asmat, with tears in her eyes. “We cooked many dishes together, but a single bullet changed everything, rendered her two kids orphan, silenced her husband and didn’t allow an unborn baby to see this cruel world.”
Hailing from Srinagar’s Panthachowk locality, Firdousa, in 2007, was married to Khursheed, who works in a private workshop. Both of them were living a happy life and had two kids. Tawqeer is studying in 3rd standard and Aalima in LKG.
The couple had built their own house and was waiting for their third kid.
“They built a separate house and shifted there a few years ago. The house is adjacent to the army camp. I insisted Khursheed many times to leave the house,” says Mohammad Maqbool, Firdousa’s father-in-law, who’s now concerned about his grandchildren’s future.
Firdousa and Khursheed.
“These kids don’t even know their mother has died. They’re hoping that their mother will return soon. What was their fault, and that of their unborn sibling? This world is so cruel. Shouldering the coffin of an unborn child is a huge burden.”
Oblivious to their enforced orphanhood, Aalima and Tawqeer are repeatedly asking heart-wrenching questions to their family: Did Mamma take the baby with her? Will it not come now?
“They killed our two family members with a single bullet,” says Maqbool, sitting inside his house surrounded by walnut trees. “Sa Aa’as Pari…Firdous Jan Aa’as Pari (She was angel…Firdousa was Angel).”